In the first message of our series on the Parables of Jesus, I gave the following definition of a parable; Parables as Jesus used them are fictional illustrations taken from real life situations, which teach a spiritual lesson. Now by that definition, I do not think that the story we have in front of us today strictly qualifies as a parable. And the reason I say that is because I don’t believe that it is fictional. I think it’s an actual story about two real people. I think that is evident because this is the only so called parable in which Jesus uses personal names of the people involved. The rich man is not named, but Lazarus is, and so is Abraham. I think these are real people, in a real life situation. Furthermore, though by a somewhat lesser evidence, there is no qualifying statement which is sometimes found in other parables to identify it as such. But that is a lessor qualification. I think the primary reason for it to be a true life story is the use of personal names.
It’s comparable to me giving an illustration today in my message and I mention Nick and tell you some story about him, and then afterwards one of you comes up to me to ask some more information about what I had said. Imagine if my response was “Oh, that’s not really true about Nick. I just made it all up.” I think you would find it very disconcerting that I had made up a story about Nick and presented it as true, but in fact it was not true. And I think that is a good analogy for this story. Jesus presented it as a story concerning real people. We certainly know that Abraham was a real person, and so it would be very odd if Jesus was to say certain things about him that were not true. So I don’t believe it to be a parable in the sense that it’s a fictional story.
However, the purpose of an illustration is very similar to that of a parable. It is meant to be used as a mechanism by which to teach a lesson or a central doctrine. As you know, I frequently use illustrations from real life in my preaching. And so though today’s story is not a parable per se, in that it is not fictional, yet it serves a similar purpose, and so we will include it in this series. Furthermore, most Christian literature considers it to be one of the foremost parables, so I would be remiss if I didn’t include it.
But it’s important that we understand that this is a actual story from real life. It’s important because a lot of theologians have dismissed some important doctrines which this story illustrates, because it does not fit with their doctrines concerning eschatology or their doctrine of eternal punishment and so forth. And they dismiss it because they say that this is a parable which Jesus made up, and therefore certain elements are not necessarily as He represented them. I find that interpretation to be entirely unacceptable. The parables that Jesus gave were always founded in reality. He wasn’t telling fables about mythical talking creatures. When Jesus gave a parable about a sower going out to sow, it was based entirely upon real situations. Chances are there were sowers working on the hillside even as He spoke. But in any event, in an agrarian society such as they lived in, the basic elements of the story would have been one that they could readily identify with and understand because they were true to life.
So because this is a real life illustration with real events, it provides us with an important insights into the afterlife, particularly that time period which precedes the resurrection. Now those insights are incidental to the central point of the illustration, but nevertheless they are important for us to consider. But the central point of this illustration is to teach the eternal consequences of a life that is not rich towards God. If you recall in our last parable, the central thought was the rich fool was rich in the world’s goods, but was not rich towards God. And God required of him his soul. This illustration builds on that by showing the eternal consequences of a life that is not rich towards God.
Let’s look then at the story. There are two primary characters, the rich man and Lazarus the beggar. They lived in close proximity to one another, and died in a similar time period. Jesus describes the rich man first.
19.“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.” I find it interesting that this man is not named. In his life on earth, he probably had a name that everyone knew, that everyone associated with wealth. Maybe his last name was Rothschild or Dupont. I doubt it, but whatever his name was, in heaven it was not recorded in the book of life, and so his name is unimportant. He has no eternal legacy.
Now this man was very rich. How rich? He habitually dressed in purple, the clothing of royalty. Purple die was very expensive in those days and reserved for the finest fabrics you could buy. “Joyously living in splendor everyday.” The KJV says that he fared sumptuously everyday. So he ate expensive foods, not just occasionally, but everyday. He lived in luxury, enjoying all that the best of life had to offer.
I just returned from a trip to the Keys. And while I was there I took my morning run through the multimillion dollar neighborhoods, and walked in the evenings around the marinas where the rich docked their million dollar yachts. It was hard not to be impressed by the luxurious lifestyle that it seemed a lot of people are able to enjoy. One neighborhood which we could not even enter without a pass had it’s own private airfield so the residents could fly in and out on their private planes. I was told the houses started at 10 million. It’s hard to imagine being that rich. This man lived an opulent, luxurious lifestyle.
I notice something else Jesus described about this guy. He said he lived joyously. Eat, drink and be merry. I think if you’re rich it’s possible to find a certain degree of joy, happiness in the pleasures of this world. And the pursuit of that pleasure can eclipse any concern you might have about the after life, because you’re so busy pursuing pleasure right now.
At the polar opposite end of the social spectrum, Lazarus was a beggar who it would seem was lame, possibly paralyzed. He had to be laid at the rich man’s gate. That became his spot, his only hope of getting food or financial help. There wasn’t government programs in those days to take care of people in his kind of condition. Possibly as a result of his paralysis, he was covered with sores and the dogs in the street would come up to an lick them, showing more concern for him than anyone else did, particularly the rich man. Lazarus was unable to fend for himself. He was eager to eat from the crumbs, the garbage really, that came from the rich man’s table.
Jesus indicated that both men died, presumably at very near the same time. He describes it in this way, vs.22, “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.”
Not only was there a great contrast in the lives of these two men, but there is also a great contrast in their deaths. The poor man, Lazarus died, and Jesus said that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. According to Jewish tradition, Abraham’s Bosom was an rabbinical idiom which refers to the custom of reclining on couches at table, which was prevalent among the Jews, an arrangement which brought the head of one person almost into the bosom of the one who sat or reclined above him. To “be in Abraham’s bosom” thus meant to enjoy happiness and rest at the banquet in Paradise. Abraham was considered the father of the faithful, and Lazarus then would be the son who has been gathered to his father’s, which is another common expression of the Old Testament saints concerning death.
I think a lot of commentators not only gloss over what Jesus said about this place, but also over the fact that Jesus said the angels carried Lazarus to Paradise. I don’t know if any of you remember the television show that used to be on about 20 years ago now, I think, called “Touched by an Angel.” I wasn’t particularly a big fan of the show. I really am not a fan of any of Hollywood’s attempts at Christian themed movies or shows. I’d rather not watch them, and would warn you not allow your doctrine to be formed or influenced by Hollywood’s interpretation of the Bible. But in that case, they may have gotten the idea correct that at the death of a saint, the angels of God are in attendance awaiting for the moment of their death. God knows the number of our days when as yet there were none of them, and He sends His messengers to attend us in those final moments, and they take our soul to Paradise. Psalm 116:15 says, “Precious in the sight of the LORD [is] the death of his saints.” There may not have been a funeral on earth for Lazarus, no one cared when he died, but God cared, and He ushered Lazarus’s soul to Paradise by a procession of angels.
That same angelic accompaniment is not mentioned for the unsaved dead. Perhaps Satan sends his fallen angels to claim the souls of the unsaved dead. We don’t know. But since they are held captive by Satan in life, it may be that he interns their soul in death. The sting of death after all is Satan’s weapon against man. But that is speculation on my part. Jesus doesn’t tell us exactly how it happens, only that the rich man ends up in torment in Hades.
The rich man, Jesus said, was buried. No burial was mentioned for Lazarus. It would have been customary for the poor man to be unceremoniously buried in an unmarked grave or perhaps even his body thrown on the trash heap outside of town. The rich man though I’m sure had a great funeral. He had five brothers who still lived, and I’m sure that half the town turned out to mourn the loss of this rich man. But as the accolades are being said concerning him, and the priest was undoubtedly telling everyone how wonderful he had been, at that very moment his soul was in torment in the flames of Hades.
As the rich man was in Hades, he looked up and saw Lazarus at Abraham’s side. Vs23 “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’”
Even in his death, even in torment, this rich man showed his true nature in the way that he wanted to use Lazarus to lessen his torment. He had no regard for Lazarus in his life, and he obviously has no regard for Lazarus now. And yet this poor man had been his neighbor, laying constantly at his gate, begging for food and for help. It’s clear that the rich man knew Lazarus, even to the point of knowing his name. He must have despised him being outside of his fine home, of being a constant pest, a constant reminder of the frailty of the flesh. And even after death, his contempt of Lazarus is evident in his asking Abraham to send him to serve himself. It’s also a tragic irony that this man who was once rich and feasted lavishly everyday, is now begging for even a drop of water.
But Abraham denied his request. Vs 25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.’” During his life, the rich man enjoyed every comfort that Lazarus had lacked. Now in an ironic twist of fate, their situations were reversed.
Not only did Abraham deny his request to send Lazarus, but Abraham explained why it was impossible. And in this response we gain some insight into what Hades is like. Abraham says in vs 26 “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and [that] none may cross over from there to us.”
The traditional Jewish teaching was that Hades was the abode of the dead, where the souls of men await the resurrection. In the Old Testament it’s called Sheol in Hebrew. But in the Greek it’s called Hades. As Jesus indicates in this story, Hades is comprised of two compartments, an upper and lower chamber. The upper chamber is Paradise, or as Jesus calls it, Abraham’s bosom. The lower part is the place of torment, which is generally referred to as Hades or hell.
The resurrection is not referenced here by Jesus, but in John 5:28 Jesus says this concerning the resurrection; “Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good [deeds] to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil [deeds] to a resurrection of judgment.”
Those two resurrections are talked about in Revelation 20, the resurrection to life, which is the resurrection of the saved, and the resurrection of the dead who are judged according to their works and cast into the Lake of Fire. But Jesus does not give us any information about the resurrection here, but only speaks concerning the intermediate abode of the dead in the time before HIs second coming. And of that place we find most of our insight in this passage.
I want to emphasize some things that we can learn from this description. In Paradise or in Hades, there is consciousness. It is not soul sleep, it is body sleep. The body sleeps until the resurrection, but the soul is alive and conscious. In the case of those in Paradise, they are gathered to their relatives who were saved and have died before. There is a reunion of the saved who have died. David said concerning his baby son who died, “I will go to him, but he will not return to me.” In Paradise we will know and be known. We will be recognizable in a way that may not be understandable now. The soul must bear the imprint of the body to be recognizable. Samuel was recognized when he came up from Paradise to speak to Saul. Moses and Elijah were recognizable at the transfiguration. And so as well Abraham and Lazarus are recognized here in this story.
Furthermore, we learn that Paradise is a place of rest. It is a place of comfort. It is a place of communication. Hades as the compartment of torment on the other hand is just that, a place of torment. It is a place of flames. It is a place of thirst. But it too is a place of cognizance. It too is a place of communication at least to some degree. It is a place of remorse. And it is a place of recompense. From other scriptures we know that it is not the final judgment nor the final punishment, but it’s the temporary abode of those who are doomed to eternal punishment by their deeds on earth.
And finally, as Jesus revealed by Abraham’s words, there is a great chasm between the two, that no one can cross. That separation is fixed, and what is done is done. There are no second chances. There is no way to escape once you are dead. The only escape from Hades will be at the resurrection, but that will be only to make eternal that which was already evident, either a resurrection to a new body and a new life for those in Paradise, or to a resurrection of the dead which is the second death and eternal damnation in the Lake of Fire.
It really is a tragic, horrible end for those who are without the Lord. We do ourselves or our loved ones no favors by ignoring the consequences of rejecting Christ. Not everyone goes to heaven when they die and it’s a terrible lie to tell people that they do. To give them a false hope. The rich man probably didn’t really believe in the realities of eternity when he was alive on the earth. But he certainly believed now. And because he realized the reality of hell, the awfulness of his predicament, he wanted to save his family from joining him there. Notice what he asks of Abraham in vs 27 “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers–in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’”
I give him credit for his compassion for his family. He shows a lot more compassion than what he showed Lazarus during his life. But it’s too late to save him. And his request shows that his heart is still selfish, wanting Lazarus to do his bidding. By the way, the sin of the rich man that Jesus highlights that disqualifies this man from Paradise is the sin of not loving his neighbor as himself. It’s not being rich. It’s not being a drunkard or adulterer or any other number of moral failings. The condemning sin which Jesus highlights Is the sin of not loving your neighbor as yourself.
Jesus was asked on one occasion what was the foremost commandment, and He answered, “To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” I think we all fail miserably in that. We have all sinned against God by failing the foremost commandment and that alone is enough to condemn us to hell. But then Jesus said the second greatest commandment is like it, and that is to love your neighbor as yourself. And I am sure that we all have failed to keep that commandment. That failure alone in God’s eyes is reason enough for eternal damnation. This rich man was guilty on both counts, but Jesus only highlights the second commandment, because it is evidence that he also failed in the first.
Jesus is not saying that we are saved by our works. We are not saved by doing social work. But what He is saying is that not loving your neighbor as yourself is evidence that you are not saved. Our desire to keep God’s commandments are proof of our faith. And the lack of evidence on this man’s part was proof that he was not a child of God.
Well, Abraham’s answer to this man’s request to send Lazarus (once again you see the attitude of this man towards Lazarus even in Hades) to his brothers to tell them the gospel is denied. Vs 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
The rich man recognized that his unsaved brothers needed a change of heart in order to be awakened to their state of spiritual peril. And so the rich man asked for Lazarus to be sent to warn his five brothers so that they would not have to experience the same torment he was experiencing.
But Abraham said the brothers already had the Old Testament writings, and it would accomplish nothing to send Lazarus to warn them. He said if their hearts were hardened against the warnings of Moses and the Prophets in the scriptures, then his brothers would not repent even if Lazarus were to rise from the dead and speak to them.
It’s ironic that there was another man named Lazarus who was a personal friend of Jesus. And this Lazarus also died, but Jesus raised him from the dead. The Bible records how many people would come to see Lazarus who had been raised from the dead, and though a few believed as a result of seeing him, for the most part the vast multitudes did not believe. They looked upon it as a curiosity. But they did not believe unto salvation.
In the same way, those among Jesus’ listeners whose hearts were hardened toward God’s Word would refuse to repent and believe even after Jesus was raised from the dead. But the warning of this story should be clear: now is the time to repent and to secure our eternal
security. Because once we die, it’s too late. Now is the day of salvation. Now is the opportunity to believe in Jesus Christ for our righteousness so that we might be saved.
And for those of us who have believed unto salvation, if we really loved our neighbor as ourselves as we are commanded to do, then should we not do everything we can to introduce them to the gospel of Jesus Christ, that they might not go to eternal punishment, but that they might be received into life? If we truly believed what Jesus said concerning death, then certainly that must be our mission in life, to win our neighbors and loved ones to Christ. Let us not be so preoccupied pursuing the pleasures of this world that we fail to prepare for the next.